The Case for the Colonels

Greece Without Columns: The Making of the Modern Greeks

by David Holden
Lippincott, 336 pp., $7.50

One of the few welcome by-products of the Colonels’ regime has been to stimulate a flood of books on the recent history of Greece. Almost fifty titles have been published, ranging in seriousness from Pavlos Bakojannis’s sociopolitical study Militärherrschaft in Griechenland (Kohlhammer, 1972) to Melina Mercouri’s I Was Born Greek (Doubleday, 1971). Most of these are anti-Colonel, some are unashamedly pro. But another, much smaller, but in many respects more interesting group seems to take the position that, while military dictatorship is generally undesirable, nonetheless the Greeks are such an unregenerate and incorrigible rabble that the rigors of martial law are the only means of keeping them in line. The most sophisticated proponent of this view is David Holden, the author of Greece Without Columns (whose subtitle is The Making of the Modern Greeks, a little presumptuous, perhaps, on the part of a writer who appears to know little or no Greek).

Holden’s avowed aim is to sweep away the myths that surround the modern history of Greece and the Greeks, and that color our understanding of the present situation. This is an entirely laudable aim, and I would be the first to agree with him that more cant has probably been written about Greece than about any other country in Europe. But in his eagerness to sweep away existing myths he propagates new ones. This is not to argue that he does not have some useful things to say. He is quite right, for instance, in seeing the Colonels as the lineal descendants of General Metaxas, who, under the aegis of King George II, ruled Greece as a quasi-fascist dictator between 1936 and 1941. Papadopoulos, like the general, is bent on eliminating the “worm of egocentricity,” and, like his predecessor, he seems bound to fail. Holden also effectively demolishes the more patently absurd elements in the fashionable mythology of “CIA involvement” in the Colonels’ take-over.

Moreover, he has a clear gift for racy expression, although his obvious delight in polemic frequently gets the better of him. “Like the illegitimate child of some hedgerow affair, modern Greece was born out of, and into, the politics of irresponsibility.” Is this really the language of reasoned explanation and inquiry in which Holden believes himself to be engaged? He can, too, indulge in humbug worthy of that archhumbug Kazantzakis, for whom he clearly has great admiration. The Greeks, he tells us, “live in a state of total and permanent contradiction of each other and themselves.” What on earth does this mean?

To succeed, such an exercise in demythologizing requires scrupulous attention to the facts of Greece’s historical experience. Too often Holden weakens the force of his argument through hyperbole or downright inaccuracy. Nonetheless, Holden’s view of recent Greek political history seems to be gaining some credence. Before these new myths gain acceptance it seems to me important to study them in some detail.

Greece Without Columns contains a number of irritating historical errors. The Phanariots did not exist …

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